Berlin, Sep 22: Germans began voting Sunday morning for the parliamentary elections to decide who will run Europe’s largest economy for the next four years.
About 80,000 polling stations set in schools and other public buildings opened at 8 a.m. (7 a.m. GMT).
Another 10,000 stations will receive postal voting until 6 p.m. (5 p.m. GMT).
Some 61.8 million voters are eligible to seal the fate of contenders, and 34 parties are competing for seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament.
The ruling coalition comprising incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) is being challenged by the centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD) and its partner the Greens.
In recent polls, the CDU/CSU union was in a leading position. Its partner FDP was wiggling around the five percent threshold to enter parliament.
“The election is very important for Germany’s future,” said a woman voter at a ballot station in southeast Berlin where German President Joachim Gauck was scheduled to cast his ballot at 9.30 a.m. local time (8.30 a.m. GMT).
Each voter could cast two ballots: the first for a constituency candidate to represent his constituency in parliament, the second for a party.
Half of the 598 parliament seats would be decided by the first ballots, while each party’s overall seats in parliament would be allocated according to the share obtained in the second ballot.
A ruling party or coalition needs a majority of seats in the legislature.
Merkel is scheduled to cast her ballot in central Berlin at 1:30 p.m. local.
Her main rival, SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck cast his vote at 9.30 a.m. in Bonn.
Exit poll results by research institutes are expected to be published shortly after the closure of ballot stations at 6 p.m.
The official provisional results would be released early Monday morning.
For months, the parties have been carrying out election campaigns.
A massive billboard of over 1,000 sq m featuring incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel has been installed at Berlin’s main railway station.
Another poster beside read, “Germany’s future in good hands”.